You’re Going to Bring WHAT Back to Life?

Here’s one I hear a lot more in local conversation here in Hawaii than I actually read in national publications, but it’s worth noting. Or perhaps it’s worth nothing, but it is fun to talk about.

Take a look at this excerpt from an article in the Suffolk (Virginia) News-Herald in which an old courthouse’s renovation project is described.

Younger Suffolk residents and newcomers to the city probably wonder about the building on the corner of East Constance Road and North Main Street.

Its distinguished columns and commanding presence likely betray its former use as the courthouse, even before one reads the word above the front door. The American flag, still raised faithfully every morning, flaps in the springtime breeze outside.

Everything’s okay so far, but then, later:

The project will not change the historical appearance of the building’s exterior much, Jones said, except for the back wall.

“We’re going to bring the backside back to life,” Jones said.

On the back wall, the contractor will construct a mezzanine floor, in between the first and second floors, to house rooms with mechanical supplies, such as the elevator workroom and the fire-sprinkler room.

Now take a look at the definition of backside from Merriam-Webster:

Function:  noun
Date:  circa 1500

: buttocks —often used in plural

Please notice that there is only one definition, and it has nothing to do with the flipside of a sheet of paper (I am often directed by people to look at the backside of a sheet of paper) or the back end of a building.

Please, please keep this definition in mind, and be ever vigilant in your own editing of this potentially embarrassing misuse of the word!

Verbing Weirds Language

The title of this entry quotes Calvin in a great Calvin and Hobbes strip. A lot of people get annoyed with the way so many people turn nouns into verbs, as in Googling, Photoshopping, partnering, and impacting. I understand their ire, and most of the time, I agree with the complainers.

It brings us back to the stylistic use of language versus the ignorant misuse of language. I have always liked words like emailing and Googling because I think they are creative, fun, stylistic uses.

In Hawaii, we often use the word lei as a verb. I used to work as a photographer for a company that would greet tourists as they arrived at the airport. Models wearing pareos would say hello, give the tourists leis, and pose while I snapped their photos. We would frequently utter sentences such as, “Get the pax off the plane quickly; lei them here, then take their pictures here. If we’re late for the next shoot, have the escort lei them herself and meet us in baggage claim.”

Another favorite of mine is dorming, as in Will you be dorming next year, or living off campus?

It turns out that impact and partner are also verbs, even though many people who use them do not use them correctly. I see my English-teacher colleagues grit their teeth whenever someone uses them, and I usually join in, especially when someone tells us that we are tasked with something.

As with most complicated issues in life, I say it comes down to intent. If Barbara Kingsolver verbs a noun, I say she gets the benefit of the doubt because she has already proven herself a poetic, brilliant, elegant writer. If some bozo talks about partnering with someone in tasking someone else with impacting some other thing, then asks that emails be sent to your supervisor or I, I am much, much less inclined to be so generous with that benefit of the doubt.

My advice, then, is to stick to standard English. Do not, in formal or professional communication, turn a noun into a verb except where the verb is already an established part of the jargon, as with the lei example I’ve given. You will never be thought wrong if you stick to conventions; you will often be thought ignorant if you do not.

Oft-Misspelled: Spelling Day

Hey, it’s the least popular recurring feature at Spelling! Yes, it is true. I’m not sure why, but readers’ responses to spelling day has been lukewarm even on the best days, but until the world learns to spell correctly, I will soldier on.

Today’s words are actually proper nouns: Gandhi and Buddhist.

It is the h that throws people off; they know there’s an h in there somewhere, but they’ll often guess wrong and spell the names Ghandi and Bhuddist. There’s actually a linguistic reason for the h appearing where it does. Indian languages have certain pronunciations that don’t translate to English pronunciations, ‘though the spellings still represent them. The dh in both these names represents, according to a speech-pathology major I know, an aspirated dentalized voiced alveolar stop.

You don’t have to know what that means, except that it means these names can be challenging to spell correctly. So please, if you know you’ve misspelled either of these words, add a comment below in which you type (not copy-paste) both names ten times each!


Usage Tuesday: I Guess it Depends on Whether or Not There’s Any Weather

Here’s one I hear spoken much more than written, but take it as a gentle reminder to be ever vigilant.

After the crazy, high-speed drive through fog and rain, the destination itself seemed rather anti-climatic.

The writer here really means anti-climactic, which means not having much of a climax, the way a good movie does before it resolves. Anti-climatic, if there were such a thing, would mean not having much of a climate, which doesn’t seem possible, since the climate of a place is its historical weather patterns and trends.

As of this writing, there are 58 hits in Google News for anti-climatic, none of which appear to have anything to do with weather.

I was going to end with a hilarious weather pun here, but I couldn’t think of one, so I guess this last sentence is both anti-climactic and anti-climatic.

Supposably is Supposedly a Word

Indeed, supposably is a word! It’s just not the word the overwhelming majority of its users think it is, including some very smart teachers I know. Usually, it’s used the way you’re supposed to use supposedly, which means allegedly, or believed to be, as in That restaurant is supposedly the best place to get Japanese food in this state.

Supposably, according to our friends as, means in a manner capable of being supposed, or believably. I’ve tried for an hour to think of a good way to use this word without being mistaken for illiterate, but alas: you are probably better off leaving this one alone.

Weekend Photo: Genki Sushi Express is back!  Sorry for the short break.  Hope you didn’t have to do any serious writing over the past seven months!

Genki Sushi

I love love love the new Genki Sushi Express in Honolulu (it’s across Aloha Stadium, in the space between Starbucks and Office Max), and have even been offered free items during the express hour (for being a regular customer, said the manager), but not even Genki Sushi is let off the hook for a bad apostrophe.  I might manage to look away from the multiple exclamation points, but not the bad apostrophe, not even for free rainbow roll.